Old Ekdal, Hialmar, and Hedvig push back the sliding door while Gregers watches; Gina sits and sews. A deep garret, filled with irregular nooks and crannies, appears through the open doorway. Moonbeams shine through the skylights, illuminating parts of the room while leaving others in shadow.
Ekdal invites Gregers to look. Gregers observes poultry, pigeons, rabbits, and a fowl lying in a basket. Ekdal bristles at the suggestion that it is simply a "fowl" or even a "duck." It is a special duck, a wild duck that belongs to Hedvig. The household won the duck when Hakon Werle wounded it on a hunting expedition. When shot, she dived to the bottom and tangled herself in the seaweed in an attempt to escape, but Werle's clever dog retrieved it. The duck carries a few slugs in its body, making flight impossible. She has lived in the garret so long she has forgotten her natural habitat.
Gregers prepares to leave. He first asks, however, about the Ekdals' spare room. Gina attempts to dissuade him from taking it in vain. Gregers insists on taking the room no matter how sparse it is. He will be like the wild duck himself. He wants to remain in town but recoils at the thought of staying with his father; he would rather be the clever dog that retrieves the duck than a Werle.
Gregers exits and Hedvig remarks that "he meant something different from what he said—all the time." Hialmar celebrates their new lodger, telling Gina that everything works out if you "keep your eyes open." Gina fears the repercussions with Werle. Hialmar makes a show of bravery and welcomes his wrath. He pledges to fulfill his mission in life and restore the honor of the family name.
This scene primarily revolves around the revelation of the wild duck, the play's chief symbol. Before considering the duck, note Ibsen's crucial remarks regarding the garret's lighting. The alternation between shadow and illumination in the mysterious garret materializes the central motifs of the play. These motifs, some of which we began to discuss earlier, organize themselves as permutations of the opposition between light and dark: sight and blindness, ideal and vulgar, truth and lie.
The wild duck is never heard and never appears on stage. It is a "quilting point" for the characters' respective fantasies: it is in reference to the duck that they imagine themselves and each other. Thus the story of the wild duck will recur continually as an often illustrative or explanatory allegory for the play's action, character psychology, and onward. For example, Gregers insists that, like the wild duck, Hialmar has lost himself in the "poisonous marshes" of his delusions. Only the importance of the duck in the characters' fantasies explains the household members' seemingly perverse undertaking. The rescue of crippled fowl from an old enemy and adoption of it, as Gregers notes later, as chief inhabitant of their garret.
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